At the risk of sounding corny, walking in Tom’s shop is like stepping back in time. I grew up in the Deep South so workshops like these litter my memory. Now that I’m about to move away, though, I stop and savor things – sewing machines, bolts and bolts of fabric, a pin-up girlie calendar, a collection of decades of yellowed business licenses, taxidermy, faded newspaper clippings, coffee cans full of hardware, all orchestrated to the distant and tinny soundtrack of conservative talk radio. The most astute Hollywood set designer could not have appointed it better. But to Tom, it’s just another day at the office.
Tom’s been trying to wind down a bit. He wants to play golf more. He tells me it’s hard to find people to do this kind of work so now it’s just him and a helper named (appropriately) Dog. I’m not surprised because his standard and work ethic have always been high. After all, he tells me he’s been making furniture since he was a child. Wanting to earn money to buy his first bicycle, Tom went door to door selling homemade footstools for $1.50. He suddenly wants to show me something. We wander back through his warehouse, maneuvering through a graveyard of unwanted furniture and past cracked windows violated by the ever-persistent Virginia Creeper vine. We end our precarious journey way in the back where he shows me his very first upholstery job – the tooled leather seat of an old wooden office chair, masterfully crafted by his then nine-year-old hands. I can easily see by the twinkle in his eyes, he’s just as proud of this as the day it was finished.
We pay his modest bill (Tom has always been fast and reasonable) and leave, a bit sad and deep in the knowledge that they don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley
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